Politics & Policy

The Lesson of Kentucky and Houston: Social-Justice Bullies Lose

Houston mayor Annise Parker (Jemal Countess/Getty)

This was not supposed to happen. In Kentucky, Matt Bevin, “tea-party extremist,” embraced Kim Davis — the notorious county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses — and he won. In Houston, all the right celebrities and corporations endorsed the “HERO act” — an expansive city ordinance that among other things would have granted transgender men access to women’s restrooms — but the celeb/corporate alliance failed. Voters decisively rejected dangerous sexual radicalism.

In response, the Left is already cementing its reaction: The forces of hate won, bigots prevailed, and Texas and Kentucky showed their true colors. The Left is calling for boycotts, with LGBT groups asking the NFL to yank the 2017 Super Bowl from Houston, and Salon is running its hysterical headlines (sample: “Kim Davis is my governor now: I awoke to an idiot Tea Party takeover”).

But that’s exactly wrong. There was hate in Houston and Kentucky, but it was peddled by the Left. Bevin’s win in Kentucky and the victory over sexual revolutionaries in Houston were both preceded by breathtaking acts of leftist bullying, where the social-justice Left ran amok in its zeal to destroy its opponents.

In Kentucky, Davis’s legal battle was shocking enough: The idea that a federal judge would cavalierly disregard the conscience of a faithful Christian, skip past all the multiple legal options short of jail, and toss Davis in prison caused a national earthquake in the conservative Christian community. But there was more. The Left went out of its way to mock, humiliate, and destroy Davis, employing all the tactics it allegedly deplores: slut-shaming, mocking her appearance, mocking her ethnicity and heritage, and doing all they could to make her an object of hate. It was bullying, pure and simple.

#share#And it was bullying that Houston citizens recognized all too well. One year ago, the activist, lesbian mayor of Houston subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of five pastors — men who opposed the city’s expansive nondiscrimination ordinance. The subpoenas weren’t limited to sermons about the so-called HERO act; they demanded “emails, instant messages, and text messages” on “equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity.” Houston had launched a direct attack on religious freedom.

RELATED: City of Houston Attacks Pastors, then Doubles Down

As the firestorm grew, Houston’s mayor doubled down, tweeting “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” But that was exactly wrong. As I wrote at the time, pastors are not “fair game” for doing their job. Pastors can educate their congregation, engage in issue advocacy, and even endorse ballot referenda from the pulpit. Even under oppressive IRS rules, they have an unlimited right to engage in issue advocacy, and they can endorse ballot referenda so long as the endorsement-related activities do not constitute a “substantial part” of the church’s activities in a given year.

On Tuesday, love won — the love of liberty, the love of common sense, and love and respect for the religious convictions that helped build this nation.

Faced with growing national controversy, formidable legal challenges, and a rising tide of local public outrage, Houston’s mayor backed down and withdrew the subpoenas, but the tone was set. Thus, when the campaign to repeal the HERO act began in earnest, it was difficult to believe the Left’s assertions that the act was benign, that it would only protect Houston citizens. After all, it had already been used as a pretext for a grotesque assault on the sanctity of the pulpit and of the privacy of a pastor’s communications with his parishioners.

#related#Of course Kim Davis wasn’t the sole issue in the Kentucky governor’s race, and not every voter who went to the polls in Houston remembers last year’s events, but there’s little question that the Left’s intolerance galvanized the conservative base — the core voters and volunteers who form the backbone of any successful political campaign. In more than two decades of conservative constitutional litigation and conservative activism, I’ve never seen the religious community more aware of the cultural and political challenges or more motivated to respond. Kentucky and Houston are the fruits of that response.

On Tuesday, love won — the love of liberty, the love of common sense, and love and respect for the religious convictions that helped build this nation. In response, I fully expect the Left to keep hating, to intensify its assault on religious freedom. Houston and Kentucky represented key victories on key issues, but despite more than a generation of culture war, the battle has only just begun.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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